Schlesinger was born in London into a middle-class Jewish family, the son of Winifred Henrietta (née Regensburg) and Bernard Edward Schlesinger, a physician. After St Edmund's School, Hindhead, Uppingham School and Balliol College, Oxford, he worked as an actor.
Schlesinger's acting career began in the 1950s and consisted of supporting roles in British films such as The Divided Heart and Oh... Rosalinda!!, and British television productions such as BBC Sunday Night Theatre and The Vise. He began his directorial career in 1956 with the short documentary Sunday in the Park about London's Hyde Park. In 1959 he was credited as exterior or second unit director on 23 episodes of the TV series The Four Just Men and four 30-minute episodes of the series Danger Man.
By the 1960s, he had virtually given up acting to concentrate on a directing career, and another of his earlier directorial efforts, the British Transport Films' documentary Terminus (1961), gained a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion and a British Academy Award. His first two fiction movies, A Kind of Loving (1962) and Billy Liar (1963) were set in the North of England. A Kind of Loving won the Golden Bear award at the 12th Berlin International Film Festival in 1962.
John Schlesinger was an English director and actor. Schlesinger's life partner of over 30 years, until his death, was photographer Michael Childers. Alan Bennett gave Schlesinger's own account of his investiture with the CBE. On this occasion HMQ putting the ribbon round his sizeable neck said "Now, Mr. Schlesinger, we must try and get this straight," the emphasis according to John very much hers and which he took as both a coded acknowledgement of his situation and a seal of royal approval.
His third feature film, Darling (1965), tartly described the modern urban way of life in London and was one of the first films about 'swinging London'. Schlesinger's next film was the period drama Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's popular novel. Both films featured Julie Christie as the female lead. Schlesinger's next film, Midnight Cowboy (1969), filmed in the United States, was internationally acclaimed. A story of two hustlers living on the fringe in the bad side of New York City, it was Schlesinger's first movie shot in the U.S., and it won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. During the 1970s, he made an array of movies about loners, losers, and people outside the clean world. Later, after Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), he worked on films that attracted mixed responses from the public, and few dollars. In Britain, he did better with films like Madame Sousatzka (1988) and Cold Comfort Farm (1995).
His later films include Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), The Day of the Locust (1975), Marathon Man (1976), Yanks (1979), The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Pacific Heights (1990), the TV play A Question of Attribution (1991), The Innocent (1993) and The Next Best Thing (2000).
Schlesinger also directed Timon of Athens (1965) for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the musical I and Albert (1972) at London's Piccadilly Theatre. From 1973 he was an associate director of the Royal National Theatre, where he produced Shaw's Heartbreak House (1975). He also directed several operas, beginning with Les contes d'Hoffmann (1980) and Der Rosenkavalier (1984), both at Covent Garden.
Schlesinger also directed a notable party political broadcast for the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom general election of 1992 which featured Prime Minister John Major returning to Brixton in south London, where he had spent his teenage years, which highlighted his humble background, atypical for a Conservative politician. Schlesinger admitted to having voted for all three main political parties in the UK at one time or another.
The book and TV series The Glittering Prizes, written by Frederic Raphael, who won the Best Screenwriting Oscar for his work on Schlesinger's film Darling, feature a character believed to be based on Schlesinger.
Openly gay himself, Schlesinger dealt with homosexuality in Darling, Midnight Cowboy, Sunday Bloody Sunday, and The Next Best Thing, and two of the main characters in Marathon Man are implicitly gay. Speaking about the unflattering portrayal of homosexuality in Midnight Cowboy, he stated that he was against political correctness and the self-censorship it encourages, which would prevent such a film from being made today. In 1991, Schlesinger made a rare return to acting by appearing in a cameo role in the BBC made-for-television film The Lost Language of Cranes, in which he played a gay character.
In his Diaries – 2003, Alan Bennett describes Schlesinger as "wonderfully funny, particularly about his sex life" and that, despite being "short, solid and fat", Schlesinger was "surprisingly successful in finding partners".
Not invariably though. Sometime in the 1970s he was in New York bath house where the practice was for someone wanting a partner to leave the cubicle door open. This Schlesinger accordingly did and lay monumentally on the table under his towel waiting for someone to pass by. A youth duly did and indeed ventured in, but seeing this mound of flesh laid out on the slab recoiled, saying "Oh, please. I couldn't. You've got to be kidding." Schlesinger closed his eyes and said primly: "A simple 'No' will suffice."Bennett was invited to speak at Schlesinger's memorial service held on 30 September 2003. Feeling that the bath house story would be inappropriate, he gave Schlesinger's own account of his investiture with the CBE.
John was so aware of his sexuality that he managed to detect a corresponding awareness in the unlikeliest of places. On this occasion HMQ had a momentary difficulty getting the ribbon round his sizeable neck, whereupon she said "Now, Mr. Schlesinger, we must try and get this straight," the emphasis according to John very much hers and which he took as both a coded acknowledgement of his situation and a seal of royal approval.Schlesinger underwent a quadruple heart bypass in 1998, before suffering a stroke in December 2000. He was taken off life support at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs on 24 July 2003 by his life partner of over 30 years, photographer Michael Childers. Schlesinger died early the following day at the age of 77.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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